On Father's Day, Sevier County dads talk about working with their kids

Family businessmen
Jun. 17, 2013 @ 11:45 AM

It's time again to celebrate dads. To mark the occasion, I reached out to local fathers who work with their adult children. They're doing business, building legacies and strengthening family ties, which seems like a pretty sweet deal.


Mike Sutton Sr., Big Mike's Cafe

Little Mike works for Big Mike. Also, Big Mike works for Little Mike. Got it?

Big Mike, aka Mike Sutton Sr., is the boss at Big Mike's Cafe, the Seymour restaurant where meatloaf is a top seller. "That and chopped steak," he said.

Little Mike, aka Mike Sutton Jr., runs Sutton's Lawn Care. Big Mike mows for Little Mike.

The restaurant opened in 2010. It's Big Mike's first. He cooks.

"I believe in good-quality food," said Big Mike, 47. "I cook from scratch. I've always cooked from scratch."

Little Mike, 27, also cooks. "He cooks just like me," said Big Mike.

How does Little Mike like working for Big Mike? "It's fun," said Little Mike. "I can't complain."

Little Mike has mowed since high school. "I started the mowing business two years ago," he said.

"He tells me where I need to be and what I need to do," said Big Mike. "He moves faster than I do on the mowing."


Joe Fannon, Creekside Plantation

Golf is changing. Younger and older players have different expectations.

Joe Fannon, 56, owner of the Creekside Plantation golf course in Seymour, puts it this way: "The Tiger Woods golfers, they're different than the Jack Nicklaus golfers in terms of what they expect and don't expect from a golf course."

So it helps that the course's manager and head golf pro is a young man. In fact, he's Joe's son, Matt, 27. "He's taught me some things," Joe said.

The younger Fannon brings serious golf experience to his job. He played on scholarship at Cleveland State Community College. He worked at Creekside when he was in school, and at Knoxville's Holston Hills Country Club.

Also on the Creekside team are Joe's wife, Brenda, and daughter, Bethany. The course opened in 2000. Joe came to the golf business via his work as a real-estate developer.

"This was a piece of property we didn't know what to do with," he said. "So we came up with the nine-hole golf course idea, along with a townhouse development."

A nine-hole course has advantages over 18-hole courses. "Golf doesn't have to be a five-hour ordeal," Joe said. "Not everyone has that kind of time."

Is Father's Day busy at Creekside? "If there's nice weather, we have a lot of families," Joe said. "We do a promotion."
Joe is letting Matt take Father's Day off. "He has a 1-year-old daughter," Joe said.


Ron Zalva, Smoky Mountain Cheesecake

Tina, the mom, bakes the cakes. R.J., the son, does the menus and is the chef. What does Ron, the dad, do?

"I do everything nobody else wants to do," said Ron Zalva, 58, speaking at Smoky Mountain Cheesecake, the Sevierville restaurant he runs with his family. In addition to Tina's cheesecakes, the Zalvas serve a variety of sandwiches.

The restaurant opened in 2011, after Ron retired as a deputy sheriff in Tampa, Fla. "We vacationed here every year," he said. "So we bought a place, moved here and took a chance on opening a little restaurant."

Running a restaurant isn't easy. "I've never worked this hard in my life," Ron said.

Families do well in business together because they trust each other, Ron noted. "You work through challenges, just like when you're raising your kids," he said.

Ron and Tina hope to pass their restaurant on to R.J., 29, and their other son, Neal, 24, who worked at the restaurant for a year after it opened.

"Not in the near future," Ron said. "Maybe five or 10 years. We'll see if that happens."


Bill Grove Sr., Emco-Williams

Bill Grove Sr., who goes by Bill, retired as a vice president 25 years ago from the Knoxville sign company Plasti-Line. He was 55.

Then he bought Emco-Williams, the Sevierville-based firm that manufactures and sells products made of granite and cultured marble – kitchen counters, vanity tops, shower enclosures.

At the same time, Bill Grove Jr., who goes by Billy, was graduating from MTSU.

"He needed a job," said Bill, 79. "I bought a company, and he got a job."

Bill is the owner. "And president, I guess," he said.

Billy, 48, is part-owner. "He's vice president and general manager," said Bill, who also has two daughters. "I let him run this place pretty much as he likes."

Do family dynamics ever affect the pair's business relations? "Now and then," said Bill. "It's not always easy, working with your child. But it works better than most."

The Groves employ 15 at their manufacturing facility on Old Knoxville Highway. They also operate a showroom in Knoxville.

"We make the cultured marble," said Bill. He added, wryly, "We don't make the granite. Somebody else made the granite."


Charles Laney, C. Laney and Sons

Originally, Charles Laney's oldest sons, James, 41, and Frank, 40, didn't want to get into the construction business.

"Over time, they came to me and said they'd like to work with me," said Charles, 61, of the Sevierville construction firm C. Laney and Sons. He emphasized the with. "I don't say that they work for me."

Then there was Luke, 30, the youngest. "I had more time to actually spend teaching him," Charles said. "When he was very young, I couldn't afford a babysitter, so he went with me to most jobs when school was out. He learned from that."

Luke didn't finish college. He wanted to join the family business. "He said I was wasting my money," Charles said. "I don't know if I agreed with him, but anyway."

C. Laney and Sons is a general construction firm. James and Frank work as superintendents.

The Laneys built Westgate Resorts, the Dandridge Community Center, churches. Currently the firm is doing construction at UT's Brehm-McLeod building. Luke is project manager.

"My boys, they've done a great job," Charles said. "They've been a blessing. Like all families, you have personalities, but really, to be honest, we get along pretty well. We have very few family feuds."

Being a parent means trusting your kids, Charles said. "If you trust your children to do the right thing, and you teach the right thing, they'll do the right thing."